An Interview With Synthwave Producer and Vocalist Circe Electro
CIRCE Electro is a South African born producer who is currently based in L.A. She has produced some major synthwave tracks and worked with artists like ALEX and M.A.D.E.S. I talked to her about how she first became passionate about music, how the creative process works for her and her views on the synthwave scene.
Karl Magi: How did you first become interested in making music?
CIRCE Electro: I started my singing/performance career pretty early and I was a professional singer at around ten years old. As a kid, both film and music were my lifeblood and my love for music definitely informed my career as the filmmaker I became. I was also in and around the South African music scene for a lot of years before moving to the U.S. Around that time, I created "Circe Electro" in conjunction with my work in the punk electro scene and that definitely took over my life. It was a sound that I had always wanted to explore and became an avenue of catharsis as a songwriter and artist.
KM: What drove your interest in making retro/synthwave/electro music?
CE: As a film and music maker, the idea of creating music that lives for visual landscapes always appealed to me. The nostalgic aspect of the genre/sub-genres is definitely a factor, but what drives me is the tone of a piece of music and it how it transports you from one reality to another and completely envelops our emotional body and imagination. I wanted to transition from the hard electro scene to a musical place where I could infuse my vocal and lyrical capabilities more comprehensively and the post punk, retrowave movement was an entirely natural evolution.
KM: Who are some of the artists who have influenced you and why did they have that influence on you?
CE: Iconic soundtrack creators like John Carpenter, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Hans Zimmer (and his stable of brilliant co-composers) and more recently Trent Reznor, Johann Johannsson, SURVIVE, Cliff Martinez. This is a rabbit hole, but also ’80s originators like Gary Numan, Kraftwerk, Bauhaus, Kate Bush, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Joy Division, Ultravox, Brian Ferry, Siouxie and the Banshees. So much greatness to mention here, but I'll stop there. More recently anything by Johnny Jewel (aka Glass Candy, Chromatics), Justice, and Kavinsky. The reason for their influence is because they are groundbreaking innovators and, ultimately, storytellers.
KM: Tell me about how the songwriting process works for you. What inspires your songs? How do you go about crafting them?
CE: My process varies. Sometimes I adapt and mold ideas and words I have written down in the past to melodies that I am working on in studio. More often, I will use an initial instrumental idea as a point of inspiration of theme and mood, but my words are generally born from something going on in my life or an experience that has made a mark and my vocal performance takes its cue from there. I record and produce all my vocals and lyrics independently in my studio in LA and then compose a rough mix for producers I am working with to give them an idea of how the layers have been designed in relation to the instrumental. We then work collaboratively until we get to the final mix. 99 percent of my work is intercontinental as it happens.
KM:What are some of the projects that you're working on now?
CE: I am currently working on a new project with Gerald van Wyk, who worked with me on the track "First Light". Although he's a fellow South African, he's based in China, which makes this one particularly interesting, but also that much more exciting in its prospects.
KM: Where do you want to take your music in the future?
CE: I am really just focused on this current creation and making it a success with established and new fans of what I've been doing for awhile now. I'd really like to be an example of a female artist in the scene that makes a respectable living. If fans don't buy and support their favourite independent artists, they disappear. If I told some music fans that I've yet to see a single payout from old releases like "Stars" through the label DIM MAK, they might be surprised. That was a so called "best of" release for them. The industry is in an alarming place, especially as a female collaborator. I'd like to stick around and keep doing what I love. I'd keep making music regardless, but being able to call it a "career" is pretty important for anyone who loves what they do.
KM: What are your thoughts on the appearance of synthwave/retrowave/retro electro music in a bigger way in recent years
CE: Firstly, I have to say that I am enormously grateful for platforms like NewRetroWave and the exposure they created for artists like me and as labels go, they are absolutely the best label I have ever worked with. As an artist of "underground" music for some time, it's in our interest to keep growing our audience and fan base and although there are those that resist the evolution of the "pop" elements in the scene, it needs to come down to more than pure genre ultimately. Good music is good music. Period. What distinguishes one artist from another in my world, is if you can genuinely feel their personal life investment beyond their inspirations.
KM: How do you reinvigorate yourself creatively?
CE: I call to experiences that inspire me emotionally and on meditation. Life is generally pretty intense, so I try to channel and make sense of that chaos in my writing or I try to shut it up and quieten the mind.